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Enduring India
By Evelyn - 4 Dec, 1999

Page 3 of 3

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In the autobiography of The Dalai Lama we've been reading. His Holiness describes his impressions of India during his first visits in the 50's as the young leader of his people. He was most impressed with how open and at ease India was with herself. He further remarked that though the Indian government under Nehru did not initially recognize his government, it still did its utmost to assist with arranging meetings between The Dalai Lama and other foreign dignitaries—never once preventing views from being expressed. The wisdom that diversity begets strength and underlies national cohesion will continue to serve India into her future.

The world's largest democracy is no doubt not without her problems. India is changing. A sizeable middle class has grown up from the economic reforms of the last 15 years. Within this, its younger generations grapple with the desire for greater personal freedoms—the right to choose their own life partner or to have and pursue their own ambitions. Their struggle is met by perhaps the most resistant forces to change—the family, where traditional practices and values are so deeply ingrained.

And then of course there is the overwhelming problem of the grinding poverty among millions of Indians. It is said that there are more people suffering from malnutrition in India than in Sub-Saharan Africa. The numbers of Indians subsisting below the poverty line has increased in recent years, at a time when India's economy has experienced 'greater liberalization'. Untold numbers are without adequate housing, sanitation, schooling and basic healthcare. There are more beggars, lepers, and homeless in India's streets than anywhere else I have ever seen. The worst of India's poverty we will not see. For India's destitute, democracy means precious little; election results, reform policies, the latest Rushdie novel—none have any bearing on their lives. For those who do not choose a life of poverty, there is nothing free about the way they live. What they know are the unfreedoms of destitution.

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This is the image of India that the elite wishes desperately to do away with. They are tired of India's progress and achievements being overshadowed by an image of a poor, uneducated, backward nation. Who can blame them? Yet these problems obviously cannot be brushed away or willed out of existence. Rather, it is the work of the educated and privileged who lead the country to understand and make changes that benefit the nation as a whole. India's elite is criticized by some as being disassociated from the conditions of the poor masses and therefore unable to represent their interests in a democracy. After all, India's elite is no different from those of other countries. Others go as far as to accuse India's elite of having a colonial mentality, maintaining a high-minded arrogance over the ills of society. I have no personal perspectives on the matter, having scant first-hand interaction with Indians in this class. The greatest challenge to India's future as a democracy lies in her ability to reconcile her economic successes with the necessary social reforms to bring about the most basic freedoms for the majority who don't have them.

The long-time South Asia BBC correspondent and India expert, Mark Tully, calls the fact that we, the fortunate of the world, have learned to live with India's poverty a scandal. India's poverty is not, should not, be India's problem alone. I guess I feel this way about most countries that, in addition to the crippling effects of colonialism, are unable to surmount endemic poverty due to incredible environmental problems (Sub-Saharan Africa). The fact is that we live increasingly in an integrated world where national boundaries mean less, where the policies of one country directly impact the lives of the citizens of another—for better or worse. Maybe we need to evolve a radical new concept of "nation-state" that better adheres to the changing nature of our world. Maybe only then might we see solutions to seemingly unsolvable political conflicts, and the increasing disparity between the haves and have-nots of the world. But that's a whole other discussion.

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Gregg and I considered where we wanted to be this New Year's Eve. We knew we would be in India, but had no specific plans, figuring any place would be interesting. As the date approached, we picked the holy Hindu city Varanasi—a center of learning and civilization over the last 2000 years. It seemed appropriate. A few days later, the Indian Tourism Ministry announced a millennium event in Varanasi on New Year's Day. So on the first day of the new millennium, we will be watching Indians perform ablutions and age-old rituals of releasing their deceased beloved from the cycle of rebirths. Just beyond the ghats along the sacred Ganges, His Holiness The Dalai Lama will be present to debate His Holiness the Pope, on the subject of world peace via a CNN live broadcast feed. There, for just a moment in history, we will be suspended, transcending time, transcending India.




Enduring India

  New York
    New York City
  West Africa
    The Gambia
  Middle East
    Palestinian Territories
    Eastern Anatolia
    Central Anatolia
    Pushkar Fair
    Madhya Pradesh
    Uttar Pradesh
    West Bengal
    Sikkim & the NE
    (Rep. of China - Taiwan)
  USA - San Francisco, CA

"This is a great moment, when you see, however distant, the goal of your wandering. The thing which has been living in your imagination suddenly becomes a part of the tangible world."
-- Freya Stark
  © 1999/2000 ~ Mauritanian Visas Denied.